Got Towed? Know Your Rights.
Let’s be honest, no one likes towing companies. No one enjoys walking out of restaurant or a friend’s apartment complex only to find that their vehicle has been loaded up and hauled off by some tow truck driver who was lurking waiting for you to park in the wrong spot. Admittedly, in many of these situations the tow truck driver is simply doing his or her job and the towed vehicle probably should not have been parked from where it was towed. But, what should you do when your car is towed illegally? Believe it or not, there is an entire section of Florida Statutes outlining the rights of both the towing party and the party being towed.
In Florida, private property owners, along with their agents, have authority under Florida Statute § 715.07 to tow unauthorized vehicles from their property. However, this is not an absolute right, as the entity towing the vehicle must strictly adhere to the conditions set forth in the statute. So what are the conditions?
Only Registered Entities Can Tow
Vehicles may only be towed by a person or entity regularly engaged in the business of towing vehicles. Fla. Stat. § 715.07(2). This means the property owner cannot contract some random individual with a truck to tow vehicles from the property.
There are Restrictions on Where the Vehicle Can Be Taken
The site where the towed vehicle is taken must be available for retrieving the vehicle from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on any day the towing entity is open for towing purposes. Fla. Stat. § 715.07(2)(a)(1.b). Additionally, once towed, the vehicle “must be stored at a site within a 10-mile radius of the point of removal in any county of 500,000 population or more, and within a 15-mile radius of the point of removal in any county of less than 500,000 population.” However, if no towing business is located within the area set forth above, the towed vehicle “must be stored at a site within a 20-mile radius of the point of removal in any county of 500,000 population or more, and within a 30-mile radius of the point of removal in any county of less than 500,000 population.” Fla. Stat. § 715.07(2)(a)(1.a). This means you don’t have to worry about your vehicle being taken 100 miles away and left in the middle of nowhere.
Authorities Must Be Contacted Promptly
The entity authorizing the towing or the company performing the must notify the municipal police department or the sheriff within 30 minutes after completion of the towing. This notification must include the “storage site, the time [of towing], and the make, model, color, and license plate number of the vehicle or description and registration number of the [vehicle]” and the entity authorizing the towing “shall obtain the name of the person at that department to whom such information was reported and note that name on the trip record.” This ensures there is record of the tow. Fla. Stat. § 715.07(2)(a)(2).
Notice Must Be Given in Almost All Circumstances
There are a series of posting requirements that must be present on the property in order for a tow to be considered legal. Florida Statute § 715.07(a)-(g) list all of the requirements. Some of the notice requirements include:
- The notice must be prominently placed at each driveway access or curb cut allowing vehicular access to the property, within 5 feet from the public right-of-way line. If there are no curbs or access barriers, the signs must be posted not less than one sign for each 25 feet of lot frontage.
- The notice must clearly indicate, in not less than 2-inch high, light-reflective letters on a contrasting background, that unauthorized vehicles will be towed away at the owner’s expense. The words “tow-away zone” must be included on the sign in not less than 4-inch high letters.
- The notice must also provide the name and current telephone number of the person or firm towing or removing the vehicles or vessels.
- The sign structure containing the required notices must be permanently installed with the words “tow-away zone” not less than 3 feet and not more than 6 feet above ground level and must be continuously maintained on the property for not less than 24 hours prior to the towing or removal of any vehicles or vessels.
You Can Retrieve Your Vehicle If You Catch Towing Company in the Act of Towing
A person in the process of towing or removing a vehicle or vessel from the premises or parking lot in which the vehicle or vessel is not lawfully parked must stop when a person seeks the return of the vehicle or vessel. The vehicle or vessel must be returned upon the payment of a reasonable service fee of not more than one-half of the posted rate for the towing or removal service. Additionally, a detailed signed receipt must be given to the person redeeming the vehicle or vessel. Fla. Stat. § 715.07(2).
Furthermore, if you come upon an individual towing your vehicle and you are unable to pay the service fee, you have the right to retrieve any personal belongings from the vehicle prior to the vehicle being taken. I’ve heard of situations where the towing company refuses to allow the vehicle owner access to personal belongings in the vehicle until the towing fee is paid. The towing company CANNOT legally do that.
Many times these towing companies are able to operate with no consequences when they have acted outside the letter of the law because individuals simply do not know they have rights in this situation. Luckily, Florida Statute § 715.07 also provides for attorney fees should an individual require the hiring of an attorney to recoup money paid to retrieve an illegally towed vehicle. If you or anyone you know has had their vehicle towed and you believe it was done outside the letter of the law, please call us at Barrett Fasig and Brooks for a free consultation with an experienced attorney.